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Punishment and crime

Study from USP reveals that recent violence of the PCC has old roots

“Gentlemen, São Paulo has 140 thousand prisoners of the PCC (First Command of the Capital) in jail and 500 thousand or more relatives outside. Today, they are even programming to elect politicians, OK” The PCC is strong in the capital, but it is supported all over Brazil, wherever it goes. It has really become a fever. Being from the PCC is good business. Many people are going to commit a crime without knowing what they have to do. If they don’t do it, they die.” Who said this was the director of the Organized Crime Investigation Department (Deic), of São Paulo, Godofredo Bittencourt Filho, at a closed-door meeting of the CPI on Arms Trafficking, on May 10.

The day after the meeting behind closed doors, several state prisons saw almost simultaneous rebellions begin, and a wave of violence paralyzed São Paulo for several days. “This crisis was one of great breadth, involving over 70 rebelled prison units, which is equivalent to half of the number of prisons under the responsibility of the Secretariat for Prison Administration. And, more important, the actions of the group have gone beyond the walls of the prison system. They have reached police outposts, police departments, buses and bank branches. They have spread terror not only among  the police and other public agents, but in the population in general. That is unprecedented”, observes sociologist Fernando Salla, from USP’s Nucleus for the Study of Violence (NEV) and (along with Marcos César Alvarez) the coordinator of the project of the Research, Innovation and Diffusion Centers (Cepids) “Construction of the policies on public security and sense of punishment in São Paulo”, financed by FAPESP.

A broad tableau, still evolving, the research reveals that the passing of time has not changed as much as it should the policy of the Brazilian State in dealing with public security. According to the Cepid, the elites, since the 19th century, have wanted to transform Brazil into a materially modern country, without demonstrating any great enthusiasm for the forms of democratic life of the countries that they took for a model. There is a lack of a fit between the political and institutional modernization (including the system of public security and criminal justice) and any effective advance in guaranteeing rights and in consolidating democracy and citizenship. The representations about the way of behaving in police work, in dealing with the criminals, were marked by the possibility of the use of illegal violence, of resorting to arbitrariness, from the certainty that there has always been legitimacy in these procedures and the connivance of the elites, which ensure impunity for any irregularity.

The project shows that the repressive part of the security policies is one side of the question, but it cannot be seen as a solution for everything. The most important thing is to have police and prison intelligence work to dismantle organized crime inside and outside the prisons. “The most difficult thing in fighting crime is not what is in the territory of illegality, but its allies who act and circulate in legality. Prison is not a bubble isolated from society, so seeing mobile phones as the central issue is to look in the wrong direction”, the researcher warns. “It would be a good thing for the authorities to take lessons from this experience, since many of the acts were practiced not only by the soldiers”, but also by sympathizers of the PCC, who wanted to show readiness to the faction, willingness to run risks.” For the researcher, without a consistent policy for facing up to organized crime, the chances of a new uprising in the prisons and a new urban chaos must not be ruled out.

The initial results of the project show that the crisis in the security area is older than one imagines. Since the 50’s, the prison system has been living through a chronic collapse. Throughout the 70’s, authoritarianism favored an invisibility for the more serious problems of the system and kept the activities of the police forces in harmony with the forces of political repression. With redemocratization, the hope that the new order might bring new ways for the security area was frustrated. The research reveals that the authorities to this date have not had the boldness to face recurring problems, and which, says Salla, manifested themselves, with great strength, in the recent crisis: the relations between the public agents and criminality, inside the prisons and outside them; the fragility of the mechanisms for accountability of the public agents; the political interference in the functioning of the police and prison bodies, so as to impair their activity; the lack of transparency in the functioning of these bodies.

Salla agrees with Bittencourt on the PCC’s potential for organization. “It is inside the prisons, but it has ample connections with criminal activities outside the prisons, in particular drug trafficking. It impresses with its capability for maintaining a more centralized command of the criminal actions and of the mobilization of its members, and at the same time having the power to suffocate the other factions that appear in the prison system”, is his analysis. In this sense, according to the sociologist, the PCC shows skill in constructing a group identity, in establishing the bonds of belonging, in exercising coercion over possible dissidents.

“Us”, Salla goes on, is constituted not only by the imprisoned who suffer the same privations and humiliations, who need to help themselves to face up to the anguishes and precariousness in prison, but also comprises the identification with the situation of poverty and unemployment experienced by the poor from the outskirts. Several of the PCC’s leaders have actually considerable levels of politization and are clear in relation to their political strength and identify in the authorities the interlocutor and the enemy of its struggles”, he reckons. “You, when you speak on the television, you represent the government; I am the leader of the PCC, so we are two leaderships, you understand?“, as Marcola said to the director of the Deic.

“There is a political astuteness of the governments that do not want to cause turbulence in their relationship with their repressive apparatus. The problems in the area of security cause political wear and tear with public opinion, and rulers tend, in order to avoid exposing the sector, to be comfortable with the want of discipline and the arbitrariness of the apparatuses, provided that they do not prompt an unfavorable exposure of the governments, particularly in the media”, the researcher observes. In the statement that leaked to the PCC, Bittencourt arrives at the same conclusion: “There was a time when the government of the state made a mistake, when it took the leadership of the PCC and the most dangerous bandits and redistributed them over Brazil. Then that, actually, ended up bringing about a mating. The Red Command ( Rio de Janeiro faction), for example, began to have a lot of contact with the PCC, to the point of even allowing drugs in Rio, for the PCC to be able to exploit them even in fights for drug outlets”.

For Salla, the reaction of the civil and military polices was also disastrous in the recent events. “When the first moment had passed, when the police could make a new pact with society, strengthen the ties of solidarity, improve the relationship of trust, the repressive apparatus let itself be carried away by the path of violence that has always sowed mistrust and fear amongst the population”, he explains. The sociologist observes that one of the greatest challenges is to construct policies on security that respect the rights of the citizens and do not suspend the legal order every time that it is thought to be experiencing am exceptional moment.

The researcher points out that the agents of the law need to act in strict compliance with the law, but, he says, what one has seen was the attribution of a state of war, a situation of exception that would justify a confrontation almost on the wrong side of the law. “It was one more lost opportunity to give society a masterly lesson of respect for the State of Law, responding to the criminal attacks not with arbitrariness or doubtful legality, but by means of intelligent actions and that would show the police to be morally superior to the acts of the bandits.”

Accordingly, the researchers go in the opposite direction to common sense, which sees the maintenance of the civil rights of the prisoners as “going soft with bandits”. On the contrary: it is precisely the incapacity of the State to ensure what is laid down in the law that causes the weaknesses of the system. ‘sentencing to privation of liberty cannot be seen as the main solution for criminality. The pressures, today strong in Brazil, have to be reduced, for constructing more vacancies, which are expensive and generate a population that keeps on growing. Reducing this pressure means stimulating other mechanisms of punishment, the alternative sentences.”

A historical analysis of the security policies reveals that it is equally imperative for the set of entities that orbits around the prison system (judges, public attorneys, prison boards etc.) to increase its efficiency, performing an effective monitoring of the prisons and stimulating a democratic control over the whole criminal justice system. “Perhaps this crisis may bring a warning for the states to seek to organize their prison systems in a more consistent and efficient way, in which illegality in the exercise of the position is punished”, he observes.

For the sociologist, one of the essential factors for understanding the growth of the criminal factors is their capacity for involving agents of the State that act as policemen or handle the custody of prisoners. The facilitation of escapes, the connivance with the entry of firearms, drugs, cell phones and money are ways by which these agents are involved with the organizations and allow them to develop. But the director of the Deic has other worries. “The PCC is today a very well-structured organization, which carries out its collection with five different treasurers who report to one person responsible, which is for the police not to get everything, when they do.” According to Bittencourt, Marcola has divided the capital into four areas of influence and has a representative in each one of them, determining everything that happens there. Which includes causing chaos. But you have to be careful with generalizations.

“An exceptional happening breaks the prison routine, makes a subject that is little addressed by the media merit attention for months. But as little is said about the day to day in the prisons, when the extraordinary events of the mutinies are emphasized, an inverted image of the prisons is produced, which come to be represented as places where there is no routine, on account of the violent manifestations of the prisoners. What is exceptional takes on the appearance of the rule”, notes Eda Maria Góes, a geographer from the São Paulo State University (Unesp). Even because exposing the population to continuous violence demands a high price from the health of the citizens.

“What is the impact of this exposure to a violence that seems that will never end” In this negative socialization, little by little the moral interdictions against the use of violence are being lost, seen as a way of repairing losses, of “doing justice”, of protecting oneself from real or imaginary threats”, warns a researcher from the NEV, Nancy Cárdia. “The greater the exposure to violence, less the belief in the forces charged with applying the laws and greater the risk of cynicism in relation to the laws, and, paradoxically, greater the acceptance of arbitrariness and violence, provide that it is applied against people suspected of practicing felonies perceived as very serious.”

This whole picture might be leading to a process of isolation, of privatization, since when people are frightened they tend to withdraw from the public space, isolating themselves, which is in the opposite direction to what is desirable and leaves them even more vulnerable. After all, for a mere R$ 200, Marcola bought the statement of senior authorities behind closed doors, inside the National Congress.